Return-to-Work Committee (or Team)
There is no absolute in the prevention of workplace accidents and injuries. Even with the most comprehensive safety program in place, accidents and injuries can only, at best, be minimized. So, when injuries or illnesses do occur, management is then responsible to do everything possible to provide prompt medical care and to assist the injured worker in returning to full, productive employment.
Formation of Return-to-Work Committee (or Team)
The first step to beginning a Return-to-Work program for your company is to develop the committee (or team). The committee will not only establish the workplace policy but also guide and monitor the program’s administration. The Return-to-Work team will be involved in all aspects of case management. Its collective goal is to direct the injured worker's recovery toward a return to productive employment. Each injury requires personal attention. To be successful, you will need to continually fine-tune your program to meet the ongoing needs of your employees and your company.
Each company’s team will vary depending on the size and resources of the company. Each member of the team is either assigned a specific role or provides important information and support during the treatment and rehabilitation of the injured worker.
After an injury occurs, the information gathered during the Return-to-Work process allows for the evaluation of job positions and work sites and the improvement of loss prevention and safety process. The assigned personnel will also be able to identify questionable incidents and unsafe work conditions through aggressive investigation and management.
It is essential, if you work in a union shop, to have union representation on your Committee. One of the greatest benefits afforded to your workplace through establishing a Return-to-Work program is the spirit of collaboration that occurs when employees and representatives from all areas come together with the mutual goal of returning injured workers to the workplace. A Return-to-Work program depends on joint Labor/ Management cooperation.
Additionally, any and all information relative to the employee’s medical history and/or condition needs to be kept confidential and should be handled only by your Human Resources committee representative who can serve as a case manager. Ensuring this high level of confidentiality will bolster your employees’ confidence in program participation.
Management and Worker Representatives
It is essential to make sure there are representatives from both management and the workforce serving on your Return-to-Work committee.
A firm commitment from top management to the necessity of the program and its benefits are demonstrated best by representation on the committee. Part of management’s role on the committee will be to develop a strategy to communicate support and commitment throughout the organization.
The worker representative might be a union member or, in non-unionized workplaces, an employee representative. This person(s) serves to provide information about the union requirements of modified duties, monitors and assists in the creation of temporary accommodation positions, and acts responsibly on behalf of the worker in matters of seniority and job assignments. Worker representation will also serve to benefit the entire workplace community by acting as a liaison to the workforce by keeping co-workers and staff informed on the progress of the Committee.
Suggested HR and Provider Representatives
Depending on the size and needs of your organization, you may want to include a representative from your company’s HR Department and/or a representative from the medical community on your Return-to-Work Committee.
An HR representative (or a staff safety employee) may serve on the committee to direct the company’s case management activities. This member would maintain contact with the health care provider and the worker while maintaining a record-keeping and reporting system. This committee member would require a thorough knowledge of workers’ compensation operations, have the ability to allocate resources to modify tasks or work sites, and have the responsibility of coordinating the final arrangements for alternative work assignments and of monitoring of the injured worker’s progress. As stated earlier, the HR committee representative will be a member of the Return-to-Work team who should handle confidential medical information.
Additionally, your company may want to include a health care representative. You may already have a provider or occupational health nurse on staff, or the possibility may exist to obtain a volunteer from your company’s workers’ compensation panel. A direct medical representative would be an immense asset to your team as you prepare to interact with the medical community. This advisor can assist you with suggestions on form format, questions to ask, and follow-up advice. Additionally, if your company does not already have a provider’s panel, these representatives can make suggestions on potential practitioners to consider during the development of your panel.